Meet the Author: Angela Taylor Hylland
The inspiration behind your book, The Denim Jungle, is really sweet and brought tears to my eyes. Can you let our readers know more about this story and how this book came about?
I’m more than happy to share the story behind the story. It’s the whole reason the book exists after all!
When my husband was little, he mentioned to his mom, Sue, that he felt like he was living in a Denim Jungle, surrounded by adult jean-clad legs. She held onto the idea, convinced it would make an imaginative children’s book. She then passed the idea along to me, the writer in the family. As such things go, we both talked about it a lot, though purely in “what ifs” and “somedays.”
Then, five months after my daughter was born, Sue lost her 14-year battle with breast cancer. Before she died, I promised her I’d make her book, for her and for her granddaughter.
I can’t begin to convey the healing and hope that’s come from fulfilling that promise. I like to think I’ve helped continue her legacy in some small way. And I know that I’ve set a good example for my kids. Dreams can come true with imagination, hard work… and each other.
I find children’s book’s so fascinating as you are both trying to write a capturing story but you also need to have great illustrations to boot. How did you select your illustrator?
A couple years ago, I posted on Facebook that I was starting to look for illustrators, and a mutual college friend told me about her. I started following her social media accounts, and really liked her work and positive vibe. We quickly became online friends, and she put together a mood board for the book. It was bright and collage-y and quirky and fun. Then she sent me a mockup for the pinecone page. From there, it was a done deal. I knew she could deliver on the artsy, whimsical style I’d envisioned.
Funny enough, we attended Northwestern University at the same time, but we never met—and we still haven’t. We did all of our collaboration via phone, email, and text.
It seems you are a woman who wears many hats. Because we are a craft show, what crafts have you been working on lately?
Oh my goodness. I have so many hats, I’m like that guy in Caps for Sale!
After leaving the board game company Cranium, I started my own freelance writing and brand consultation company, Syntax Sorceress LLC. Companies hire me to do everything from writing product copy (usually for games) to crafting marketing materials to developing brand strategies. It’s fun—and always something different! Right now, I’m working with a virtual reality company, for instance.
And then there’s the little job of being a mom to a kindergartener and a one year old. That involves a whole other set of hats. Not to mention being a “book mom” now to The Denim Jungle, too. I self published it, so I’m a one-woman book selling, distribution, and marketing team.
Somehow I do still manage to fit in some crafting. It’s just in my blood. For my book launch party, for instance, I took two weeks making a 5’ x 7’ banner out of old jeans, fabric, and felt. And I don’t sew a lick. Let’s just say fabric glue is my friend. Even I was shocked but how well it turned out. Book stores and schools are always impressed when I roll it in for book events.
No offense to traditional publishing, but you’ll never get an agent or publishing rep to lovingly craft such a marketing statement for you. That requires pure heart. And like I said, a LOT of fabric glue.
Can you tell us about My Castle Heart Publications?
When I made my promise to Sue five years ago I had absolutely no idea how I’d fulfill it. I started attending talks and conference about publishing to get up to speed on my options. That took about year. Motherhood and paying jobs took priority, so every stage of the book journey took longer than planned. For the next two years, I made a valiant effort to go the traditional publishing path. I attended proposal writing workshops; researched my dream publishers; poured my heart into query letters; and lovingly crafted 20-page proposals detailing audience, competitive set, marketing opportunities, illustration recommended, etc. etc. etc.
Eventually three things made me stop in my tracks and change direction: 1) Hard-cover, full-color self publishing was finally a viable option. 2) If you go the traditional route, you have to do most of the marketing footwork anyway, and I was already well down that path. 3) If your book isn’t wildly successful in the first year, it’s highly likely the publisher will pull it, “pulp” it, and no longer sell it.
“So why am I using all of my limited time to run this treadmill that might never end?” I asked myself. I was confident in my vision for the story and my writing skills, and I knew I had a network of wonderful writers behind me, willing to help keep me on course.
That’s when I decided to “craft publish,” as I like to call it. Self publishing continues to have a lot of negative connotations, but there’s truly so much potential in it. It just needs a new marketing campaign. Think about if someone tried to sell you some self-brewed beer. That doesn’t sound very appealing, does it? But what about craft-brewed beer? Perhaps you’re more interested now? “Self” versus “craft” gives you a different impression of the attention to detail that went into the product.
I started My Castle Heart Publications with a commitment to making The Denim Jungle the highest quality product that it could be, especially if I was the one publishing it. And if I publish any other books, you may be certain I’ll be just as passionate about the quality factor.
Any new books in the works?
I think there’s a real need for a book that can help parents teach their child about a special family member the child never had a chance to know. Something that’s not sad, but celebratory; a book about legacy and sharing stories. There are plenty of books to help kids cope with grief and personal loss, but this isn’t that.
Granted, it’s a really hard topic to tackle, especially in the way I envision. But I want it to exist for my kids, and many other parents have expressed likewise. It will but a hard nut to crack—and I’m still too busy with my first book baby… and of course my REAL babies!—but I’m committed to making it happen. Someday, somehow.
What was the biggest learning lesson you could share about publishing a book?
I knew I would be a one-woman marketing, sales, and distribution team. I was fine with that. Heck, I do marketing for other people and their products for a living, so why not? But oddly enough, it’s one thing to market other people’s products and quite another to stand up, wave your hands, and yell (again and again) “Hey, look over here at me and what I made!” It feels really really odd and uncomfortable sometimes (at least for me). But when I hit those walls, I just remember all of the time, work, and passion I put into making The Denim Jungle and keeping my promise. Why go to all that effort, if you’re not going to share it? I know there are people out there yet to enjoy it and its message. That helps push me through.
Also, there isn’t one big finish line to work toward. It’s helpful, instead, to think of publishing as a lot of little finish lines: book in hand, book launch party, book in stores, readings, reviews, etc. It’s essential to make little goals to keep motivating yourself forward. And by all means, celebrate those accomplishments! A lot of people say they want to make a book. Every step you take after just saying it is monumental and something to be proud of. (Do you hear that, self?)
I am sure you made Sue very proud. What do you think she would say about your book and it’s success?
You took my breath away with that one. She would be proud, I do know that, but not so much for the fact that her idea was made. She was a person who reveled in supporting, motivating, and celebrating the accomplishments of those she loved. She would be proud of me for doing this for myself—and for trying to inspire others and my kids in the process.
This book isn’t just her concept. It’s a part of the legacy of who she was and the positivity she added to the world. I love that the spark of her is in every copy of The Denim Jungle and every person who reads it.
And I suppose now it’s a part of my story and my legacy. Perhaps that’s the real finish line.
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